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Articles from 2020 In February

Need to Know

EnviroLeach to License Technology to Recycle Catalytic Converters

iScrap App Twitter EnviroLeach to License Technology to Recycle Catalytic Converters

EnviroLeach Technologies Inc. has signed a letter of intent (LOI) with Mineworx Technologies Inc. to utilize EnviroLeach's patented technology for recovery of platinum group metals (PGM), including platinum and palladium from waste catalytic converters.

Upon completion of a definitive agreement, Mineworx will fund, in phases, further development of the EnviroLeach technology for the recovery of PGMs, including bench and pilot-scale test work. Mineworx also will have the option to finance, construct, own and operate a proposed commercial production facility to process end-of-life catalytic converters utilizing EnviroLeach's proprietary technology under license.

A catalytic converter is a device used to convert toxic vehicle emissions to less harmful substances by way of catalyzed, or accelerated, chemical reactions. Most present-day vehicles that run on gasoline or diesel, including automobiles, trucks, buses, trains, motorcycles and planes, have exhaust systems employing a catalytic converter. The catalytic converter in a typical automobile or small truck contains 2 to 12 grams of palladium and an equal amount of platinum.

Previous test work on catalytic converter materials by EnviroLeach demonstrated the positive extraction of platinum and palladium with recoveries of approximately 90 percent.

The current price of palladium has now surpassed gold and is trading at $2,600 per ounce. In its "Automotive Catalytic Converter Market" report, Allied Market Research projects the global automotive catalytic converter market size is expected to reach $183.4 billion by 2022. According to Reuters, the increased demand for palladium is being driven by new regulations in China, which require approximately 30 percent more palladium per vehicle.

"We are pleased to announce this new initiative, which has significant potential to leverage our patented technologies and expertise within an untapped market sector," said Duane Nelson, president and CEO of EnviroLeach Technologies, in a statement. "The objective of this venture with Mineworx is to develop an eco-friendly and commercially viable process for the extraction of platinum group metals from waste catalytic converters."

The completion of the transactions proposed under the LOI is subject to a number of conditions, including negotiation and execution of a definitive agreement and license agreement.

Need to Know

EPA Seeks Applications for National Environmental Education Training Program

National Environmental Education Training Program

As directed by the National Environmental Education Act of 1990, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the availability of approximately $11 million in funding for a multiyear cooperative agreement to develop and manage the National Environmental Education Training Program. Applications must be submitted by May 29.

“Training environmental educators on the latest science, technology and engineering is crucial not only to their engagement on the issues but also to inspiring the next generation of environmental educators,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a statement. “Through this cooperative agreement, we hope to increase the availability and understanding of scientific information to improve environmental decision making and promote a cleaner, healthier environment for all Americans.”

The purpose of the program is to develop and deliver environmental education training and long-term support to education professionals across the U.S. Applications must include proposals for national programs that will:

  • Help train environmental educators.
  • Increase distribution of quality materials.
  • Improve non-formal education programs.
  • Enhance coordination among environmental education organizations to help reduce duplication and costs.
  • Increase the number of environmental educators.
  • Increase public knowledge of the environment.

Only one cooperative agreement will be awarded to a U.S. institution of higher education, a not-for-profit institution or a consortium of such institutions. Applicants must provide non-federal matching funds or in-kind contributions of at least 25 percent of the total cost of the project. 

Need to Know

Montgomery County, Va., Approves Waste Ordinance

Montgomery County, Va., Approves Waste Ordinance

The Montgomery County, Va., Board of Supervisors recently passed a new ordinance, requiring all commercial garbage to be delivered to facilities operated by the Montgomery Regional Solid Waste Authority.

The ordinance will not impact recyclable materials and manufacturing and construction waste, and companies currently collecting waste in the county will be given a five-year grace period, according to a report by The Roanoke Times.

While the ordinance passed on a 6-1 vote, it received some pushback from private waste haulers and the Virginia Waste Industries Association.

The Roanoke Times has more information:

The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance Monday night requiring that all commercial garbage collected within the locality be delivered to facilities operated by the Montgomery Regional Solid Waste Authority.

The so-called flow control ordinance, which passed on a 6-1 vote, will only affect the processing of garbage, not recyclable materials and manufacturing and construction waste.

Companies that currently collect waste in Montgomery County will be given a five-year grace period.

Read the full story here.

EPA Breaks Down What Coal Ash Rule Means for Waste Facilities

Getty Images EPA Breaks Down What Coal Ash Rule Means for Waste Facilities

Representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave an update on the coal combustion residuals (CCR), or coal ash, rule this week during Global Waste Management Symposium (GWMS) 2020.

Richard Huggins, a chief in EPA’s Energy and Recovery Branch of the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery, provided an overview of the work EPA has been doing in relation to the 2015 CCR rule. He explained that although the agency is making several changes to the rule due to litigation and petitions, the 2015 rule is still in effect.

“Sometimes the key message in what’s going on with coal ash and regulations gets lost, so I just want to highlight very quickly that there are still the rules that have been in place since 2015 to detect and assess, and possibly remediate, impacts on groundwater from coal combustion residuals,” noted Huggins. “They are unchanged, and they are operating as intended per the original rule.”

EPA Breaks Down What Coal Ash Rule Means for Waste Facilities

EPA has proposed amendments to the federal 2015 Coal Ash Rule that critics say would remove certain safeguards if the ash is dumped or spread for a "beneficial use," such as fill. EPA’s proposal includes planned revisions to address matters raised in litigation, legislation, petitions for reconsideration and rule implementation.

Currently, there are four ongoing rulemakings pertaining to CCR:

Package 1: Enhancing Public Access to Information and Reconsideration of Beneficial Use Criteria and Piles

This rulemaking was proposed last summer to discuss the threshold for beneficial use. The comment period for this rulemaking closed on October 15, 2019, and EPA received 130,000 comments.

“We are still reviewing and deciding what to do and what action to take,” explained Huggins.

Major elements of the rule include:

  • Discussion of the threshold for an environmental demonstration for beneficial use.
  • Requirements for piles of CCR, such as conditions for onsite piles and offsite piles and how to manage piles safely.
  • Internet posting requirements. Format for facilities’ GWM reports and making websites publicly accessible.
  • Alternative risk based on GWPS for boron. This is a procedural step, noted Huggins. “If we were to ever add boron, this would be where to propose the value. So, this is a housekeeping element.”

Package 2: A Holistic Approach to Closure Part A: Deadline to Initiate Closure

This rule was published on December 2, 2019, with the public comment period ending on January 31. Huggins emphasized that this rulemaking is “of critical importance right now” and has three major elements:

  1. Definition of lined unit and removing a clay-lined unit from the current definition.
  2. New initiation of closure and cease receipt of waste deadline of August 31, 2020.
  3. New alternate closure provisions for surface impoundments: extensions to the cease receipt of waste deadline.

Under the three-month extension deadline, a facility must certify that it needs more time to achieve cease of receipt of waste due to factors outside its control.

Under this rulemaking, the EPA’s site-specific alternative requires facilities to submit demonstrations to EPA for a specific amount of time to continue to use their surface impoundments while developing alternate capacity for the CCR and non-CCR waste streams. Facilities have a maximum of five years from the date of the court mandate to comply—by October 15, 2023.

This ruling also includes an alternative for permanent cessation of coal-fired boilers. A facility will have to submit a demonstration to EPA for approval to continue to use its CCR surface impoundment. The facility must be able to complete the closure by 2023 for surface impoundments less than 40 acres and by 2028 for impoundments larger than 40 acres.

Package 2 Part B: Alternate Demonstration for Unlined Surface Impoundments and Implementation of Closure

Publication in the Federal Register is still pending for this rulemaking, which concerns alternate liner demonstration. Under this rule, units not meeting EPA’s restrictions will be forced to close.

“Some facilities have said they have an engineering system and that they should be able to submit data to keep this system open,” explained Huggins. “We heard that and proposed that materials and demonstrations would then go through a site-by-site evaluation. This allows an owner-operator to demonstrate that an unlined surface impoundment and/or its environmental setting are equivalent to a composite-lined surface impoundment.”

He added that facilities have asked EPA if they could put CCR for beneficial use in their units after closure or if they need engineering signoff on this. This is a co-proposal looking at those two scenarios.

The rule also covers additional proposed units for those being closed by CCR. EPA permitted a rule where sites have up to 15 years for units to close. But facilities have come to EPA and said their cleanup could take longer than 15 years and have asked for an extension. This measure provides a mechanism that would allow them a clean close so they could continue their cleanup.

“There is no relaxing of the regulations,” emphasized Huggins. “Facilities still have to do remediation of the primary cleanup.”

Lastly, under this rulemaking, EPA proposed that facilities submit annual progress reports, which Huggins said was missed under the original rule.

Package 3: Federal CCR Permitting Program

This rulemaking is currently undergoing edits for publication in the Federal Register and has more to do with the federal regulatory process regarding permitting.

“This doesn’t change any of the technical regulatory requirements of the CCR rule. This is just building EPA’s private process regarding all the paperwork that has to come back,” noted Huggins.

EPA sent letters to facilities informing them of their obligations under the rule and pointing them to important timetables.

“Some facilities were missing key closure reports, so we sent them letters and had conversations with some of them. It’s a continuing effort; we continue to monitor reports and make sure people are posting in compliance with the rule,” added Huggins.

There are roughly 768 CCR units under EPA’s purview. Landfills comprise about 30 percent of the facilities with surface impoundments at about 70 percent. Huggins explained that 31 of those impoundments are lined, with the rest unlined, so those units will have to close.

He did note that a large majority of surface impoundments are in corrective action and explained that those numbers will change over the next year.

Need to Know

BAN Publishes Newest Version of e-Stewards Standard

e-Stewards Twitter BAN Publishes Newest Version of e-Stewards Standard

The e-Stewards Certification Program launched the 4th Version of its Ethical Electronics Recycling and Refurbishment Standard this week. The new, more streamlined version of the standard has been under development by a special drafting committee since summer 2018. In the last few months, it underwent two lengthy open stakeholder comment periods, which ended a month ago.

"The revision process was smooth and very constructive, and the result is a standard that is easier to read and execute and at the same time has probably become more rigorous in the areas that matter most—human health, export controls and data security," said Jim Puckett, founder and executive director of Basel Action Network (BAN), creator and administrator of the e-Stewards program, in a statement. "At a time when ethical behavior continues to be challenging for some, and a time when the industry is getting more complicated by the day, this version should be a welcome tonic for all stakeholders."

Version 4.0 of the e-Stewards Standard has been shortened from 99 to 60 pages. The formerly incorporated ISO 14001 Environmental Management System language has been removed, but the standard still requires certification to the ISO standard separately. And, by July 1, 2022, it will also require the NAID (National Association for Information Destruction) AAA data security certification as well. Additionally, the e-Stewards program has a powerful performance verification program, which goes beyond the yearly audits to uniquely make use of GPS trackers to randomly sample downstream destinations of equipment that passes through e-Stewards recycling facilities, as well as unannounced inspections.

e-Stewards processors can continue to utilize the current version (V3.1) of the standard until August 24, 2021, when it sunsets and Version 4 will be required by all e-Stewards Certified processors. Some of the attributes of the new V4.0 of the e-Stewards Standard include:

  • Design for international use, and thus applicable in every country.
  • Copyrighted but available free of charge.
  • Requires the additional certifications to NAID AAA (data security) and ISO 14001 (Environmental Management System).
  • A corporate standard that applies to all facilities and operations of a company within a country, not just certain select facilities.
  • A more streamlined, less prescriptive text when compared with V3.1, resulting in a shorter and easier-to-read standard while retaining the same rigor.
  • Compliant with international waste trade laws, including the most recent amendments to the Basel Convention, and OECD Council Decisions.
  • Containing best practices for environmental and health and safety management system norms, occupational health, social accountability and privacy protection.
  • Will be accompanied by a comprehensive living Guidance Document. The first version of the document is slated to be complete by April 30.

"The e-Stewards Certification is truly a one-stop shop for industry leaders in the ITAD [IT asset disposition] space," said e-Stewards program Manager Salomé Stähli in a statement. "Already, we have attracted many of the world’s largest companies as enterprise partners, including electronics manufacturers such as Sony, LG, Vizio and Samsung. And, in the next 24 months, we are poised to expand our footprint to 11 more countries. The new e-Stewards Standard V4.0 will greatly enhance the industry’s ability to offer gold-standard services from the smallest operators to transnational partners all over the globe.”

GWMS 2020 Recap: That's a Wrap

GWMS 2020 Recap: That's a Wrap

Global Waste Management Symposium (GWMS) 2020 flew by, and we are gearing up for GWMS in February 2022 at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa in Indian Wells, Calif.

Until then, check out a short recap of some of the highlights from this week:

Need to Know

YUM! Brands to Phase Out Polystyrene Foam Packaging

Cuomo Unveils 5th Proposal Banning Single-use Styrofoam

YUM! Brands, Inc., one of the world’s largest quick service restaurant companies, with global brands including KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, has agreed to end its use of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam packaging globally by 2022, following engagement with As You Sow.

Rarely recycled, EPS foam, used in beverage cups and takeout containers, is a frequent component of beach litter, breaking down into indigestible pellets, which animals mistake for food, sometimes resulting in impairment and death.

EPS foam is used mostly for side dish takeout containers in about 40 of YUM!’s global markets, including 4,000 U.S. locations and 2,700 non-U.S. locations. Phase out of EPS foam will eliminate the use of at least 100 million foam containers per year, according to the company.

A shareholder proposal filed by As You Sow urging the company to phase out EPS foam among other actions to improve packaging sustainability was supported by 33 percent of shares voted with a share value of $7 billion in 2019. As You Sow refiled its shareholder proposal for 2020 but has withdrawn the proposal in recognition of the company’s commitment.

“We congratulate YUM! management for this leadership action in removing EPS foam from its global packaging stream,” said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president at As You Sow, who specializes in waste and recycling issues, in a statement. “This action could significantly reduce the amount of single-use packaging that ends up as littered waste, especially in developing economies where YUM! does substantial business.” YUM’s KFC brand alone has more than 5,000 outlets in 1,100 cities in China.

In 2018, McDonald’s Corp. agreed to phase out foam containers at the end of 2018 after a shareholder vote and engagement with As You Sow, eliminating the use of 1 billion cups annually. A month later, Dunkin’ Brands followed suit, setting a 2020 phase-out date for foam cups following McDonald’s commitment, which will eliminate use of another billion cups annually.

Polystyrene has been widely used for single-use containers across the world for decades, but in recent years, its negative environmental and health profile has led major companies to drop it. In 2017, a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation New Plastics Economy Project, endorsed by major brands including Coca-Cola Co., Danone, Mars, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble and Unilever, recommended phase out of expanded polystyrene, calling it a substance of concern and stating that its replacement would enhance the economics of recycling.

A Global Perspective on All Things Waste and Recycling (Transcript)


[00:00:00] Liz Bothwell: Hi everyone, welcome to Waste360's NothingWasted! Podcast. On every episode, we invite the most interesting people in waste recycling and organics to sit down with us and chat candidly about their thoughts, their work, this unique industry and so much more. Thanks for listening and enjoy this episode.


[00:00:26] Liz: Hi everyone, this is Liz Bothwell from Waste360 with Adam Minter author of Junkyard Planet and Bloomberg opinion columnist. Welcome, Adam and thank you for being here.

[00:00:37] Adam Minter: Well, it's great to be here.

[00:00:38] Liz: I'm so excited to have you on the show, I've been reading your work for years. You had an interesting childhood, could you share a bit about your background and how you ended up writing about the global waste and recycling industry?

[00:00:49] Adam: Sure. I like to say I grew up in a junkyard, which is only a slight exaggeration. My family had been in the business since the early 20th century and my great-grandfather came over to the United States and started work as a rag picker. Eventually made his way up to Minneapolis and that's where the family business was, we had a small metal scrap yard. I worked there really as far back as I can remember, doing the simple tasks in the warehouse, sorting plumbing scrap, whatever it might be.

In my 20s, I decided that business wasn't for me, I enjoyed the business, but I was not good at it, and the city of Minneapolis wanted to acquire the land from our company. I transitioned into journalism not thinking that I would actually ever return to scrap, but I eventually made my way over to China as a foreign correspondent. The timing was good, that was 2002 as many of your listeners would know, that's really when the commodity supercycle really started happening and really started driving up the price of scrap recyclables from all over the world, and the flow of scrap recyclables from developed countries into China, including from the US, really surged.

I had this instant beat that I didn't know that I wanted to cover, I thought, "I'm getting from recycling, finally", but it was just too interesting story, it's not just about recycling, it's about trade and globalization and it became a big part of what I have done for almost going on 20 years now.

[00:02:27] Liz: That's amazing. I've read your fantastic book Junkyard Planet a few years ago, you really were one of the first people to shed light on the multi-billion-dollar global recycling industry to folks outside of the industry itself. We all knew it was fantastic, but I don't think the mass media understood what was going on with this amazing industry. Were you surprised by the success of that book and the continued success of this book?

[00:02:55] Adam: Yes, I did not expect it to explode in the way that it did, very quickly. Public Radio was very supportive and I probably should have figured that out from the beginning because Public Radio listeners are very interested in recycling. Once Public Radio discovered the book and I started doing Public Radio shows, I saw the audience growing and the interest in this topic growing.

That was really gratifying, but what's really surprised me is that the book came out in 2013 and it continues to be demand for, we just did another paperback printing. That demand is coming from places I never expected, it's being assigned and a lot of geography courses, economic geography courses in universities, at business schools, and that's incredibly gratifying, not just for me personally, but I care about the industry and I truly care that people see it in the correct way, so if it's going in front of students, graduate students and people who are going to be engaging in sustainability and recycling on a very deep level, that's a really good feeling as a writer. It's been a surprise, but it's been a wonderful surprise, one of my career's great surprises.

[00:04:05] Liz: That's great, good for you. You've lived in and traveled all over Asia, so you have a bird's-eye view of recycling conditions and what got us to where we are today. Looking back, China needed our raw materials but, when do you think the shift happened that made today's climate around the bans and regulations possible?

[00:04:26] Adam: It's interesting. A lot of your listeners will remember things started getting a little shaky, actually, in the early part of this decade, that's when we started seeing some of these earlier bans. I remember as far back as 2008, hearing rumors from Chinese government officials, who would know what they are talking about, saying that there are serious discussions ongoing in Beijing about eventually ending the trade in recyclables.

At the time I was shocked, because it was booming, this is before the global financial crisis, but at the time, what was being said was that, "Look, if we're ever going to develop our own recycling industry here in China, especially household recycling, we will need to stop competing against imported recyclables." All this talk about contamination, people think of recyclables from the United States or Europe being very low quality, and that's open to debate, but what isn't open to debate is that imported recyclables from -I'm just talking about the United States, but it goes for Europe or Japan- are especially important to household recyclables, are much higher quality than what's generated in China. That comes down to one simple fact and that there is simply no city in China that has a functioning Venus full recycling system where people are actually sorting their recyclables.

By the theory of the Chinese government officials who I was talking to in the late part of the last decade, they really felt that they had to get rid of some of these imported recyclables because there were no incentives for private entities or government to start collecting from domestic recyclers. That, I think, is really where the stage was set. I know there's been a lot of talk in recent years that this was motivated by environmental concerns, that they didn't want to be importing foreign trash, but at least according to the conversations I had as far back as 10 years ago, the real concern was that they could not compete against the quality of the imported material.

[00:06:34] Liz: Okay, that makes sense. I've heard you say, "Watch what they do, don't listen to what they say", it's easy to blame the contamination but the end, that wasn't actually the case.

[00:06:48] Adam: Right. That's always the case and it's not just with the recycling in China. I cover other things in China, even still though I live in Malaysia and you always have to be careful how you parse Chinese government statements, there's oftentimes other audiences for them, you just don't know what the motivation is.

We all remember the footage coming out of, say Southern China, it's been a few years of the so-called the e-waste dumping ground in Guiyu. The government would hide Guiyu and say, "This is terrible, the foreign governments are dumping their stuff", and then you would see very high-level Politburo members go down there, tour it and extol the sustainability benefits and how it supplies raw materials and reusable parts to the tech industry there.

Recycling industry, in general, is never a black-and-white industry or black and green industry, though I think we'd all like it to be, it's very complicated and in China, the complications are even grander, you could say.

[00:07:46] Liz: I bet. You heard talk of this back in 2008, is China any closer to establishing more infrastructure, like modernizing their landfills, incinerators or recycling systems? Or is the issues still the same?

[00:08:02] Adam: They've really improved a lot. There's been a tremendous improvement, especially in the disposal systems. I'm talking largely on the east coast of China where there have been massive investments made in incinerator technology. At least on the East Coast, because the land is so valuable and so scarce for development, they're just not going to develop landfills anymore, though they do have some modern landfills. They are investing in good incinerators, they're very interested and have acquired Japanese incinerator technology and the Japanese incinerators are as clean as an incinerator can be. That's something that they've really improved quite a bit.

In terms of the scrap recycling industry, it runs much cleaner than it did when I first arrived in China in 2002, you just don't see the open burning anymore, at least in the more developed regions. I don't want to say it's always gone, it's in a massive country, but yes, to your question, there has been improvement, but it's going to take time and it's a massive country with huge city clusters, it won't happen in 10 years, you're talking generational changes.

[00:09:18] Liz: Definitely. How are they with public education about recycling? I'm just comparing them to Japan and Japan sounds like they're worlds ahead of the US in this regard, so just wondering how it is in China.

[00:09:32] Adam: Yes, I spent the last time in Japan over the last two years for this next book and I consider myself a very conscientious recycler. The granularity of instructions in Japanese homes, on the street and where you put various containers had me doubting myself and feeling guilty. It's fantastic, they really have a public ethic and there's all kinds of reasons for their cultural recycling, but it's impressive and I think it's hard to replicate anywhere, I think they, in terms of that public education component, are the tops.

China is not, like a lot of developing countries, most of the population still looks at recycling as an economic act, as something that can be put out inside their home and somebody will pick it up, so the environmental motivation isn't there. During my time in Shanghai, the government with some private entities tried several times, there were several efforts to start sorting programs, getting people to do the equivalent of a blue bin -who was never a blue bin- but getting people to think about sorting their trash. It just never caught on.

The efforts were harmed as well by the fact that you can see this stuff being sorted and then the garbage truck comes and everything is just thrown together into the garbage truck. I saw that in Beijing as well. They've made efforts in the biggest cities, but these efforts -I don't want to say they're half-hearted- but they don't follow through on them, they may last six months to a year and then it just falls off.

It's going to take time. Again, it's a generational change, it's a developing country transitioning, and at least in the big cities, I think, you'll see younger people start thinking in terms of environmental issues and sustainability, but it's going to take time.

[00:11:31] Liz: Definitely. I've heard you say before that China's got the circular economy down. Do you still think we can learn from them with what they're doing with everything from Christmas lights to iPhones?

[00:11:45] Adam: I do. Let me relate to an experience I recently had. I had an iPad Mini, the second generation one that had finally given up the ghost recently, it just was done. I didn't, obviously, want to throw it in the trash, I didn't want to throw it in the recycling bin. I spoke to my wife, she crossed her arms and said, "So, Mister. Recycling, what are you going to do?"


One easy option would be to take it to the Apple store. At the Apple store, they would have taken it for free, there's no trade-in value, it's a much older device, it would have been taken to a recycler and shredded and there would have been some raw material value taken out of it. What I ended up opting to do was I went on eBay and you could find the same model of older iPad Mini, people bidding on them 30$ to 50$. Most of the people doing the bidding had ethnic Chinese names, some of them were in California, so I thought, "Well, I'll see what happens" and I ended up selling it, with shipping, for a little over $50, that far exceeds. Yes, I mean, far exceeds what the raw material value is in that iPad Mini, everybody knows that.

I didn't ask the guy who bought it what he was going to do with it, he was buying a lot of electronics I saw, older vintage electronics, but clearly at that price something was going to be reused, either the device itself, maybe it was going to be refurbished, whatever was not working anymore they would replace the parts in it and sell it in a developing country, or this person or whoever he works with would extract the parts and those parts would be resold, possibly as new, possibly as refurbished, we don't know.

Of course, you can do that in the US, I think he was in San Jose, but that's a much more common thing to have happen in a developing country like China, which has a large reuse infrastructure, massive reuse infrastructure, mostly based in Shenzhen, where instead of looking at a broken device as something that should be shredded and what limited raw material to be taken out of it will be taken out of it, they look at an old device as a combination of older parts that can be reused.

There is a massive economy, a multi-billion dollar economy in reusing parts in China. That is something that I do believe, not just the United States, but the EU, which is pushing very hard, circular economy initiatives can learn from. But it's hard as well because there's all kinds of issues wrapped up within that, including intellectual property issues. That makes it hard, but I do think that at least theoretically, there's something to be learned from this.

[00:14:30] Liz: Definitely. What do you think is the future of e-waste? As a planet, how are we going to deal with this influx as 5G comes in and we just know what's coming? Or at least we think we know what it's coming around the corner in terms of what we will be disposing of and it's a lot more than what we have right now?

[00:14:49] Adam: Yes. I'm both worried and not worried. Let me tell you the not worried side of it first. One, we often hear that e-waste is the world's fastest-growing waste stream. That's not true, the world's fastest-growing waste stream, if you travel around the developing world, is automobiles. Where people have gotten the idea that e-waste is it, small phones, I don't know, the growth in automobiles is enormous. That's a huge problem, and if you go to automobile recycling yards in the developing world, then you'll see a real problem, not the e-waste recycling yards.

The second thing is I do have some faith that design for recycling, design for reuse principles, are starting to penetrate into product designer's and manufacturer's consciousness. I think that will be helpful, it's certainly very early, but 10 years from now, I think we'll actually see products being much more recyclable, much more reusable than they are right now. In fact, I would be astonished if it's not the case. Part of that, simply, has to do with the fact that the manufacturers are seeing economic incentives in it, especially with batteries, in memory modules, there's real value there. I think that value is there.

The other reason that I feel very confident in the ability of the situation to get better is because the industry is so globalized now. I spent quite a bit of time in West Africa for this new book. West Africa has this reputation as being a dumping ground, people dump their stuff, I've never seen anything dumped in the recycling industry, I see it bought and sold, but not dumped. One of the things that happens in West Africa that I think has been wildly overlooked by people who profess to be concerned about this is the amount of e-waste that is exported out of Africa, specifically memory chips, CPUs, screens.

Those modules, those parts, are being exported in many cases to Nigeria, where they're reused in new or refurbished devices, and an extraordinary amount of gold-bearing electronic scrap is being exported back to China. You have this robust trade, not just West Africa, but Africa in general, with West Africa and China, which is very keen to get that raw material so that it can reprocess it and it can be reused again, either as parts or as a commodity. China is rapidly upgrading its technology so that it can do this thing in an environmentally sound way, they see an economic incentive for doing it.

I'm very optimistic in that sense. It will everything be perfect? No, but I think there's a lot of reason to be optimistic. There are also reasons to be pessimistic, I think something that the recycling industry, the electronics industry and the automobile industry are roundly unprepared for is the recycling of electric vehicles. These are no longer going to be mechanical devices, they're going to be more akin to drones, with very few moving parts, a lot of silicon, a lot of high extremely expensive components, and it's going to require a revolution in how these products are disassembled, who owns them post first owner. I'm not sure how that's all going to shake out, especially in developing countries where the infrastructure may not be there to handle it. It's going to be complicated.

[00:18:30] Liz: That is and that's a good point, I hadn't even thought of that. I want to get to ask about your book, but before we do I wanted to talk to you. I loved your recent Bloomberg article that mentions the Norwegian government's proposal, it's intended to curb the tide of plastics in our ocean, it seems like the intention is noble but may be short-sighted. Could you share your thoughts on this and give our listeners a little bit of background about your article?

[00:18:57] Adam: Sure. Well, as we speak this week, in Switzerland there are the COP meetings, which are basically regular meetings of signatories to several conventions that are designed to restrict the export of hazardous waste to developing countries, one of these is the Basel Convention.

Last year, Norway proposed amending the Basel Convention so that basically plastic waste would now be considered a hazardous waste. Once it's considered a hazardous waste, there would be restrictions on its trade. The intention is to make it harder and to create a more thoughtful process in how waste plastics ends up in the developing world. Norway, like a lot of other countries, would like to see fewer waste plastics going to the developing world.

That's what the proposal is, it would treat waste plastics like arsenic, for example. The key provision, the way it would work would be, currently, if somebody wants the ship arsenic waste to a developing country, say from Norway, they would have to notify the developing country and receive consent to actually make that shipment. Under this new Norwegian proposal, the same procedure would exist for plastic waste.

In my column, which was published few days ago, basically argues that this is going to not be good for the oceans, but in fact, it may actually increase the amount of plastics flowing into the oceans because it will inhibit the reuse of plastics, it would promote landfilling and incineration and encourage the use of virgin raw materials, all because it's going to make the transportation and trade in waste plastics harder.

[00:21:01] Liz: Right. Okay. Well, we will be following that for sure. Packaging is a huge issue in our waste stream now. How is the packaging situation there with Alibaba and other retailers?

[00:21:15] Adam: I would say it's reached crisis proportions, I'm sure you've seen some of the pictures and videos of what some of these Chinese warehouses and waste facilities look like after Singles Day, which is the single largest shopping day of the year in China and increasingly in Southeast Asia.

Of course, there's a great amount of recycling infrastructure in China, and the paper recyclers, in particular, are keen to get all of that stuff especially because they can't get the imported material anymore, but that's not the extent of the problem, the bigger problem and one that the government is starting to panic about in China is e-commerce, our food delivery packaging. Styrofoam containers and other food delivery packaging that's basically enabling China's massive, there's nothing close to it in the US, massive, massive e-commerce-based food delivery system.

There's multi-billion dollar companies now that are founded upon it and largely operate by delivering food from restaurants and by and large the packaging that they use is not designed for recycling. Even if it were designed for recycling, it would be smeared with sauce and everything else, and as we know well, in the United States and in Europe that's contamination. They're really at a loss right now as to how to handle this and it's going to be a bigger and growing problem.

[00:22:48] Liz: I like that. Now, do you think solutions like robotics and AI can help with some of the contamination issues? Or is it just not there yet?

[00:23:00] Adam: It's not there yet. I'm just talking about-- In developing Asia in general, outside of Singapore. Outside of Singapore, Japan, and Korea, the developed countries, there just isn't the waste sorting, it's not happening, you don't have the recycling bin in developing Asia, including China. Obviously, optical sorting and the various robotics, that's just not going to be an effective solution when you've got a massively commingled truck filled with food waste and other recyclables. So no, not yet, what China and other developing countries and Asia really need to do is they need to be able to build household recycling infrastructure so that they can get to the point where they can talk about robotics.

[00:23:51] Liz: That makes sense. You have a new book on the horizon, It's called Secondhand. Could you talk more about that? I would love to hear about this one.

[00:24:01] Adam: Sure. Well, Secondhand really was born out of the last couple chapters of Junkyard Planet, when I started looking at basically, rather than [unintelligible 00:24:11] commodities I started looking at whole things, clothing, a whole electronics, [unintelligible 00:24:18]. What happens to these? Not when we dropped them off at the recycling center, but what happens when we drop them off at the Goodwill.

It was a personal quest as well because, like most people in the developed world now, I lost a parent, and after you lose a parent part of the mourning process, frankly, is trying to figure out what to do with the stuff they left behind. I started trying to figure out what was going to happen to my mother's things after she passed away and a lot of them went to Goodwill, so I made it a quest to figure out what happens within the thrift infrastructure, the thrift industry. Where do things go? Is there a better way to do it?

I just really wanted to explain to my readers what that all looks like. The book opens literally at a Goodwill donation door and I take you on a journey from the donation door, through the thrift system and around the world. Ultimately, it's also a book about consumption because it turns out -and I knew this and I think anybody in the recycling industry knows it- there's a real limit to how much of your stuff can be reused, whether it be clothing, computers, the glow sticks from that concert you just went to, whatever it is, there's a very limited amount of use for it.

The book towards the end starts posing the question, "What can we do about this?" I argue that the problem we have -and I think it is a problem- isn't a crisis of quantity of stuff, but rather there's a crisis of quality, the quality of stuff is declining and because of that, the quantity is increasing. We need to start looking at ways to improve the quality of the goods that we're buying, in that way we can have a better reuse system and we'll also have less personal property flowing into the waste system.

[00:26:07] Liz: Did you see differences based on the geography of how people treated their things and [crosstalk]?

[00:26:13] Adam: Yes. This was a really exhausting book to do and a really fun book, it takes place in Japan, Malaysia, West Africa, Ghana, Benin and all over the United States. The twin cities, the Goodwill that I focus on is in Tucson, Arizona, and I spend quite a bit of time with traders there because Tucson's Goodwill system really depend upon traders coming up from Mexico, so I really show you how there has been so much of our thrift system, especially. Our thrift system in the United States is dependent upon globalized trade, if there weren't traders coming up from Mexico, that stuff wouldn't get reused.

To a certain extent, everybody reuses in the same way, but what I think is surprising is that a lot of the stereotypes that we have about reuse, go by the wayside at least as I found them, I expect it to see far more reuse in Japan. But the one thing I consistently heard in Japan, home to Marie Kondo, is that they are far more wasteful than Americans, they actually go through things much more quickly, they're much more fashion-oriented. That's why you see something like Marie Kondo emerging there, it's not because of any heightened ecological consciousness, it's because they're consumers [unintelligible 00:27:33] a lot.

It was really interesting and I spent quite a bit of time there with companies that are devoted to exporting Japanese property into developing countries because, I'm sure you know, Japan's population is shrinking, and as the population shrinks, they're leaving behind a lot of stuff. Well, where is all that stuff going to go? Well, it's going to developing Asia and Africa. The process of parsing that out, figuring out what works for use goods traders in Mali, as compared to use good traders in the Philippines, is very interesting to me.

[00:28:08] Liz: I like that. I can't wait to read it. It feels it could be just the US bias, but it feels there is a movement to minimize. Did you see that?

[00:28:20] Adam: Yes, I did. I did feel it and if you talk to the people in the thrift industry and Goodwill, they're feeling grow. Especially the kind of phenomenon ended up pumping a lot of secondhand stuff into the system, and there seems to be -and it's hard to quantify- but there seems to be a growing interest in upcycling and reuse. That's really interesting and that's really encouraging.

One of the points of the book, however, it's maybe a little bit more pessimistic, which is to say, "Yes, you should upcycle and reuse, but you can't upcycle and reuse your way out of our current sustainability crisis, ultimately it's going to require a change in how we make, in how we manufacture stuff and how we buy it", meaning not buying the disposable TV, the one that lasts three years, but buying a better quality product that lasts longer. A washing machine that lasts 25 years instead of seven years in some of the warranties promises. It also refocuses things in that way.

[00:29:29] Liz: I like that, that's great. It's coming out in November?

[00:29:32] Adam: Yes, November 12.

[00:29:33] Liz: Can we pre-order on Amazon?

[00:29:36] Adam: Yes, if you look up, Adam Minter's Secondhand on Amazon, you'll find the page there and it can be pre-ordered as an e-book and as a hardcover.

[00:29:46] Liz: That's awesome. Okay, good.

[00:29:49] Adam: Thanks.

[00:29:50] Liz: You know that will be happening [laughs] for sure. Back to your first book, I know that you mentioned in there, I forget which chapter. Everyone thinks right now is the biggest crisis that we've ever had in recycling, but I know that you've reminded us on Twitter that's not necessarily the case, it's not all doom and gloom, there are solutions coming out of it. What do you think?

[00:30:16] Adam: Right. Well, yes, that's correct. One of my favorite parts of researching Junkyard Planet was actually going through the trade journal archives at [unintelligible 00:30:27] and Washington DC back in 2012. I went back to the very beginning of recycling trade magazines, I think was 1905, and it was remarkable how many times over the next hundred years people said the recycling industry as we know it is over. "Prices are low, people aren't buying this anymore, there's quality issues", and you would see huge turnover in the number of companies and who owned the companies, but inevitably the recycling industry resuscitated itself. That is because, ultimately, there's value in these materials.

The way they flow in the markets change over and over, but ultimately there will be value. There's a lot of people upset that these materials are now flowing into Southeast Asia, but they're flowing into Southeast Asia for two very important reasons. One, they can be reused, and two, they're cheap. They're cheaper than, in many cases, using the alternative. Those are the new markets emerging and perhaps the old markets are dying.

One of the things that I think changed in the recycling industry is that many of the participants, the people are being hurt by this current crisis, entered the industry in the last 20 years. They entered as the commodity supercycle began, not just for recycling commodities, but also for virgin commodities, and they've never faced a real downturn quite like we're seeing right now. But if you talk to people who were in the industry before the supercycle, before the 1990s, they are starting to say the same thing, which is this industry as it is right now, with it's tighter margins and lower demand, reminds them of the 1970s and 1980s, where it was a shock to see a copper move 10 cents in a year, much less than a day.

But these older entrepreneurs and managers all managed to make a living in the industry, it was just harder, it was an instant. I think some of these lessons that were learned in the '70s and '80s are now being relearned. I think five years from now things will be going better and we'll have much more experience. Harden, I guess you would say, our recycling professionals, and that will make for a more resilient industry.

[00:32:45] Liz: Definitely. Yes, there's definitely life. Now, do you think technology has shaped the global perspective on waste and recycling? You're talking about these videos and everything's shared on social media.

[00:32:55] Adam: Sure. Yes, in many ways I think social media has actually hurt perceptions of the recycling industry, simply because it's so easy to put a photo of, say, a young African man next to a broken computer on Twitter and say, "Look what happens to your developed country waste." There's no context there, it might be highly misleading, but it's an emotional image.

This isn't just a problem with reporting on the recycling industry, but there's no context there, there's no nuance and it tends to get people angry and emotional, but it doesn't give somebody who might know how that computer ended up there and what the full story is. Maybe, it is a sustainable story after all, it doesn't give that person the oxygen, the room or even the tolerance to explain that at times. I've had instances where I've tried to offer some nuance to some very, I would say, explosive looking photos of recycling on the internet, and I know exactly what has happened there and it's not how people are taking it, I'll be subject to your usual Twitter abuse. It becomes not worth it.

I think, in many ways, it's hurt the industry. On the other hand, I've also felt -and I have mixed feelings on this- I don't think that the recycling industry over the years has necessarily done a great job of telling its story to the mainstream. It's still, in my impression of somebody who grew up in it, it's an industry that likes to keep the gates closed and talk to itself.

There's good reasons for that, but increasingly in a connected world, I think it needs to open the gates wider, be more willing to explain what it's doing and be willing to take that criticism while delivering a more nuanced message. It just has to because the alternative is you're going to let the Twitter mobs and advocacy journalists, who don't understand the economics of the recycling industry, control the narrative.

[00:35:03] Liz: Right. That's a good point storytelling is such a huge part of our lives now and I think the recycling industry is doing a lot of good things, and with storytelling being such a huge part of what we're all doing, regardless of industry, we all need to do a better job of communicating it to the masses because, to your point, otherwise you are going to have pundits and Twitter trolls telling your story, and it's out of context and not necessarily true.

[00:35:31] Adam: Right. Absolutely. I'm not trying to point fingers at all, don't get me wrong, I consider my responsibility to tell the story as well, also, sometimes I feel I haven't always done a good job, but I just think in general people associated with the industry should be willing to step up and tell these more subtle nuanced and, yes, personal stories out the industry.

[00:35:55] Liz: Hopefully, we will see more of that.

[00:35:57] Adam: The other thing I think is positive is a lot of brands and large companies, as they understand that sustainability can just be a label, they actually have to do it, they are becoming more involved in the recycling supply chain. Revealing it in good ways and explaining what it is in good ways. I think that's very encouraging.

[00:36:19] Liz: Yes. I think so too. To that point, I know that part of what you try to do is to elevate in China what you call The junk men and the junk people. Do you think that's happening now that sustainability it's so top of mind to everyone?

[00:36:37] Adam: I don't think so. To be honest with you, I don't, I don't know how I'm going to do it, but it's become a bit of a pet peeve of mine, is the language that is used around recycling, especially the term dumping. Because the term dumping it's a very powerful word, everybody assumes they know what it means, but amongst its many problems is that it takes agency away from the people who are actually doing the trading.

As I said earlier, I've never seen a load of recycling dumped in a developing country, there is always somebody in that developing country who has paid for it, imported it, paid for the shipping as someone would pay for an Amazon package, and has an intention of extracting some economic value out of it. That story is never told. If you look at the way that the recycling stories have been told over the last year about the shift to Southeast Asia, you'll always see the recycling facility in San Francisco, and then the next image you'll see is the leftover waste in a field in Malaysia. But who is the person who got that through the port and why did they do it?

Nobody is digging up those. They're not hard to dig up, they're right on the shipping documents. I think there's a certain amount of erasure going on, and I don't think that's healthy, I don't think it tells the industries truths or its stories very well. At times I think it also takes on a bit of a racial component because so much of the global recycling industry is mediated by people of color, they're the traders. Most of them, small business people, and yet mainstream media coverage of the global recycling industry erases them almost entirely from the story, and I think that's extremely unhealthy. It's something that needs to change.

[00:38:32] Liz: That, I hope it does. What else do you think we should be paying attention to around waste and recycling from your global perspective?

[00:38:38] Adam: One of the things that I found really interesting doing this new book was the opportunity to really dive into the state of secondhand clothing and textile recycling. What I found was a market that's extremely complex, that's very robust, that's as globalized as anything -most people in the recycling industry do- but it's also a market that's about to undergo a massive disruption for two big reasons.

One, the world is producing and consuming more clothes than ever before. For a long time, it used to be that the buyers of second-hand clothes were in developing Asia and developing Africa, and the donors and sellers were in wealthy countries. Well, that's changing. China is now I think -or will soon be- the world's largest consumer of clothes. One of the things I found when I was in Africa is there are large shipments of Chinese secondhand clothing going into Africa. That is driving down the price of secondhand clothing globally, because there's all this new supply.

At the same time as developing Asia and developing Africa get their own middle classes who want to buy new. I don't know how this is going to work out, but I spend quite a bit of time in the new book looking at this, there's going to be a real shift in how textiles and clothing are handled, whether people want them. I think inevitably technology is going to have to come into this.

There's a big change coming in that market, and I think even people who aren't involved in secondhand textiles will feel it in other ways because I think to a certain extent it's going to be repeated in other markets that were dependent upon income inequalities to make the trades work.

[00:40:21] Liz: What keeps you busy outside of your work?

[00:40:24] Adam: What keeps me busy outside of my work? I got a four-year-old. As soon as I'm done with work, I head home and Sam I head out to the big field across from our home, kick around a soccer ball, just run like mad or jump on the playground equipment. He's my hobby, so there's work and there's my son. My wife would agree with this, whatever time my wife and I can squeeze in outside of what she does and what we're doing with our son, we do. I'm plenty busy and it's all good [crosstalk].

[00:41:01] Liz: What a great [unintelligible 00:41:02] enjoy every minute of that [laughs]. This has been fantastic, can you please let us know when you will be coming to New York to do your book tour for a SecondHand?

[00:41:13] Adam: I absolutely will. I can tell you right now, we were actually just discussing some of this on email yesterday, I should probably be arriving in New York on November 10th. There will be a launch event on the 12th and probably something on the 13th, as well. Yes, thank you so much for having me on, this is great. I really loved doing this.

[00:41:28] Liz: Well, Thank you so much. I can't wait for listeners to hear this, you've just given us so much to think about and your global perspective it's just amazing, thank you.

[00:41:37] Adam: Good. Thanks again for having me, we'll be in touch.

[00:41:38] Liz: Bye-bye.



Food Waste is Fixable (Transcript)


[00:00:00] Liz Bothwell: Hi everyone, welcome to Waste360's NothingWasted! Podcast. On every episode, we invite the most interesting people in waste recycling and organics to sit down with us and chat candidly about their thoughts, their work, this unique industry and so much more. Thanks for listening and enjoy this episode.


[00:00:26] Liz: Hi everyone, this is Liz Bothwell from Waste360 with Ashley Stanley, founder and executive director of Lovin' Spoonfuls, a food rescue organization based in Boston. Welcome, Ashley, thanks for being on the show.

[00:00:39] Ashley Stanley: Thanks Liz, thanks for having me.

[00:00:40] Liz: Please tell me a little bit more about Lovin' Spoonfuls, your story and your mission.

[00:00:47] Ashley: We are a 10-year-old food rescue organization, as you said, based right here in Boston, we actually just celebrated our 10 years last week. In that time, we have recovered over 15 million pounds of fresh healthy food that would have otherwise wound up in a landfill and been able to upcycle it into the social service stream.

We're a logistics-based company, we work in the nonprofit space, but we really approach this work as a method of food diversion and even waste management. I think the difference with us is that we see this food prior to it becoming categorized as waste in any way, we just see it as excess, most often the food we're working with is post-retail, it's lost his consumer marketable value for a number of different reasons and we're recovering about 75,000 pounds of this food each week and then feeding over 30,000 people each week.

[00:01:55] Liz: That's remarkable. When you first started, you ever dream it would reach this point?

[00:02:00] Ashley: I don't know if I knew enough about what I was doing or really what the need was to sketch out what it would look like 10 years later, I think for me and so many of us, we don't know enough about food production and subsequent food waste.

I think for me this was an entire education around how much food was being produced and how much food was being wasted, how that plays into the food supply and then finally how that plays in what the needs of the community are. Through that time it's really become our founding principle that hunger is not a problem of supply, but rather a problem of distribution. That's really what has shaped and continued to grow and evolve our model.

[00:02:52] Liz: That's great. Take us back a little bit, you have a pretty well-oiled machine now in terms of bringing together the community, the grocery stores, the wholesalers' farms and everything else, but that could not have been an easy task back then 10 years ago. What were some of the challenges you encountered trying to create this model that really hadn't existed before in your area?

[00:03:16] Ashley: It's funny, there are so many different things that were unrelated at the beginning that were challenges. Let me just say that food rescue isn't necessarily unique to Lovin' Spoonfuls, the concept has been around for generations. For us, what it's different and unique is our model and our approach, so much of what we try to do is take a logistics-based approach to make sure that we can guarantee the most consistent and reliable level of service, when generally speaking, food rescue is random, at best.

At the very beginning, some of the barriers to entry just had to do with the fact that we were talking about logistics, distribution and food supply. In that area, not many women were present in that space, so for me, trying to, A, understand what the landscape was and, B, come up with a solution or something that connected all of those different points and facets, that was a difficult space to navigate.

As you say, now our model is pretty well-oiled, if you will. Under our partner umbrella, we have vendors which are the businesses that you mentioned, food retailers, wholesalers farms and the likes. Then our beneficiaries, which are social service entities, large soup kitchens, small domestic violence safe houses, children's programs, senior programs, recovery homes and transitional programs, really anybody that is lacking consistent access to fresh, healthy food for themselves or for their families.

At the very beginning, trying to build that bridge and trying to understand what that disconnect was- I was knocking on doors of local supermarkets, some attached to national brands, but really trying to find out who I should talk to, is the sustainability manager? If the brand had a sustainability manager, is it the produce manager? Is it the store manager? Trying to understand what their operation on a day-to-day level looks like and where a solution like ours could fit in.

On the other side, trying to understand what the needs of the community were and continue to be, is really a hallmark of what we do, what Spoonfuls has never done was walk into a new community or expanded new roots and say, "Here we are and this is what we're going to do for you", or, "This is what you get." The question is always what is it that this community needs and how can we be helpful? We work collaboratively with a number of different stakeholders to identify and meet those unique needs of the community.

We're able to build a consistent model, but be flexible and adaptable enough to be able to bend. Sometimes it's just a geographical adaptation, the service areas between a rural area and an urban area [inaudible 00:06:47] very different, and the way we look into designing our routes, is often dependent on that. Much has changed in the 10 years, but at the beginning, it really was everything happening in one stage, the market landscape, the R&D trying to understand who the test market would be and trying to understand where a solution like this could fit.

[00:07:16] Liz: Right, I like that. Well, you really conquered that in your model and your whole idea of feeding people isn't the problem of supply, it's the problem of distribution. It's really logical and can work for many regions, are you helping others to launch similar programs elsewhere? Are you becoming the model to aspire to?

[00:07:39] Ashley: I think in some ways I don't know if we're the model to aspire to, but the efficacy of our model has been proven and I think we get a number of inquiries each month from different regions around the country. "Hi, I'm in Alabama and we need something like this in our community", we've got a number of different letters from folks in Connecticut, we've gotten letters from folks in the Midwest and, again, all across the country.

I think the way was when I started there were a handful, maybe less than 10 of established food rescues around the country, but these were folks and organizations that had been around for 20, 30 years and were real true threads in the fabric of those specific communities. These organizations like City Harvest and Food Runners, DC Central Kitchen, So Abundance, they were so kind and so free with me in terms of talking about what worked for them.

I spent some time at City Harvest in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time going back and forth with the folks from Food Runners and trying to understand what the model was like in Northern California, and obviously, those two geographies are very different. What I came to understand and what I came to learn was when you're talking, essentially, about buy and demand and figuring out how to meet those needs at those two, it really is about strategic and deliberate logistics.

The approach for us has certainly evolved over time and add people -I think- understand the value in the benefit of food rescue. We do our best to offer the very basics, not just as starting a non-profit, but understanding, A, if there's anybody already doing this in your area because you never want to be duplicative, you want to let the efforts that are successful continue to be successful and then be helpful where the gaps are.

That's really the first thing, do your market landscape if you will and trying to understand what the space looks like, if there's room not just for improvement but to be helpful and boost whatever the existing effort is, then getting into the practical, how are you able to build the bones of a non-profit and that's everything from fundraising to staffing, for us, everything is about temperature control and compliance.

We talk a lot about valuing our end-user and valuing the health of our end-user, so much about the conversation about hunger has evolved into a conversation about hunger as a public health issue. For us, that means preserving the health of the food and making sure that everything we do is meeting some regulatory compliance and standard of the supply chain. For us, all of those different components really lead to safe, efficient and reliable service connecting where the abundance is and where the need is in the community.

We try and be as helpful as possible, it's really up to the folks in their specific areas to understand the needs of their own community because what's working for us, in Greater Boston, isn't working or isn't going to work the same way for us. In our recently expanded route in Hamlin County which is Western Massachusetts, we certainly had to adapt to that community, that geography and anybody else would have to do the same as well.

[00:11:44] Liz: That makes sense. How are you using technology? Is it helping you scale?

[00:11:49] Ashley: That's a great question and ironic because I'm a luddite, almost. I think I still have the iPhone from six or seven years ago, the small one that still has a button. For us, the evolution of Lovin' Spoonfuls has seen everything from paper record-keeping, to cold packs that caterers use to move food around, to looking at maps and trying to understand from the DOT what the appropriate truck routes are.

All of that has evolved into, I think, a pretty sophisticated suite of technology that helps us with our inventory tracking. We've implemented Salesforce for free use across the organization not just on our fundraising and our donor side, but it really helps us understand who our partners are, additionally helps us understand our ability to help these businesses who are donating and giving us the food.

What their impact in their own organization could be in terms of tax breaks by weighing, measuring, voting and classifying everything that's being given to us. In addition to that, we have logistical technology in terms of route management, making sure that our trucks are where they need to be, finding the easiest and most cost-effective way to get there and back.

Certainly, we're able to employ technology on our fundraising and marketing efforts as well. Across the organization, we really try and keep a high level of technology at the forefront.

[00:13:45] Liz: I bet. Especially since you said it's about the logistics, you have a lot going on, sure it helps in many ways. 

[00:13:53] Ashley: Indeed.

[00:13:56] Liz: I know you alluded to this a little bit and talked about the end-user being your ultimate focus and safety. How are you addressing the idea of food safety? Because we've all heard that food safety is part of what stunts some of this trash delivery to people and organizations in need. How are you guys conquering that?

[00:14:17] Ashley: There are a couple of different ways. My background is not nonprofit, it's not allottee, it was very customer-driven and I think a lot of our collective perspective, our collective viewpoints on business in general, is that the focus is always on the customer.

When you get into nonprofit or when I got into nonprofit, one of the interesting things to me, was that we talked a lot about putting value into the effort that's being made, the ideology or the mission that's being endeavored to be carried out.

For me, this was sort of a shift in the language where most often you talk about doing what you can as a business to deliver exceptional outcomes, and an exceptional product or an exceptional service to your customer, the focus and the value was on the customer. That always stuck with me, as we got started and as Lovin' Spoonfuls has continued to grow, for me, in that way, it's not much different, we value our end-user over anything else and that means that we have to do our best along the supply chain along our [inaudible 00:15:53].

Everything we do across the organizations, we have to make sure that we can serve our end-user as best we can, because in this space when you're talking about the needs of the community and the needs of people, especially where we are in the world right now, our purpose is to be observers to the community, to the folks who are in transition, to the folks who need help and how do we do that in the best way we can.

One of the things that Lovin' Spoonfuls does not do is take volunteers on a day-to-day basis at the heart of our work, and at the heart of our mission. The reason being is that the majority of the food that we work with is perishable, it's temperature-controlled, so all of our food rescue coordinators are full-time employees, they're serve state-certified, they've been through a number of different trainings.

They are well versed in compliance and safety standards, which means that the food that we are picking up and delivering, we are able to guarantee it once it comes into our possession. None of this is meant to be a knock or criticism on volunteerism, I think it's incredibly important for us as a community, for us as people but when it comes to food, again, I think I said this at the beginning of our discussion. When you're talking about the health of people, you have to make sure you're talking about the health of food, that's not something, in my opinion, that you can leave up to a volunteer because there are things that you cannot control.

If you are in your car, something happens and you have to deviate or you can't make it that day, that means that we would be unable to guarantee service in a way that we're comfortable with. That's something that's driven our model in the way that we work a little bit. The other piece of that is our fleet, everything is temperature-controlled, all of our trucks are refrigerated, and we're working with our vendors to make sure that our service windows are consistent and guaranteed on both sides.

[00:18:20] Liz: That's great. You guys have such a heart, you've approached this out of a need for you to better a community or help and hunger, make the most of the abundance in all of our lives, I love how you approached as a business but never losing sight of end-user, I think that's fantastic so good for you.

[00:18:45] Ashley: I think we have a shortage of solvable problems in the world. I've been saying this for 10 years, I guess, but food waste as its own concept is 100% solvable. When we get into talking about hunger and poverty, fundamentally those are political issues, we are doing our best to create a safety net and fill in the gaps of folks who aren't seen and unfortunately, they fall through the cracks.

For us, it's so important to be able to guarantee our work and make sure that we keep the person at the end of our operation in our minds at all times.

[00:19:34] Liz: That's fantastic. I know on our end too, a lot of people in our industry focus on consumer education, I see that you guys are focusing on that a little bit as well, so can you tell us a little bit about your Plenty program, what that is? And how that helps? 

[00:19:52] Ashley: Yes. We actually have two educational programs. One, as you mentioned, is, "Consumer", I'm using some air quotes on my side of the line over here. Consumer-focused, and then we do vendor training as well, which I think would be of interest to you because what we want to do is start to create some best practices and clear standard operating procedures for our vendor partners.

We go in and our operations team goes into these retailers and the wholesalers, they will spend time with the department heads and their staff, and go through a number of different criteria that the brand would have to meet in order to work within the Lovin' Spoonful's program.

We've created training videos, we've created training collateral, just to help the brand improve their own internal practices. What we've come to understand is because food rescue has been regarded as a little bit of an ancillary service, we talked about composting, we talked about recycling, we talked about AD and general straightforward waste management.

If you really pull from the EPA hierarchy of diversion after you get through source reduction, feeding people and really making sure that we can eat the highest value in the products that we capture, is important not just by the time it gets to us, but helpful for the brand to understand what their inventory looks like, and what their [unintelligible 00:21:37] looks like and what they can do with existing product.

As it relates to Plenty, Plenty was the product of distributing food to a number of different shelters. In Massachusetts we're very lucky, we have an incredibly rich agricultural community all throughout the state and in the growing season, we get a tremendous amount of really wonderful and interesting produce.

This was probably in our second year, we have been delivering crates and crates of kohlrabi and collard greens and Swiss chard, really wonderful locally grown products. We would get into the city, we would get into some of these volunteer-run kitchens and folks who were just so pressed for time and they didn't have the funds to supplement their kitchen operations, and they were just doing the best they can to serve an ever-growing and still growing number of their own constituents.

At any time we didn't bring anything that was, I guess, what you would consider straightforward, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, spinach, white bread, non-perishable food, things like that, folks would get nervous and they started to turn some of that food away. I was stumped and I asked one of the fellows who had worked at the Boston Rescue Mission, a great organization in town, "Why won't you take this product? What is it that you don't like about it or that you don't want?" And he said, "I don't know how to cook it".

It was this light bulb that went off and said, "Okay, so we can either just be a distributor of food or we can try and go a step further, deliver this food and distribute this food with some purpose, try and empower our beneficiaries. Not just to do more, but to understand what kind of value and what kind of power that they could then give to their constituents." It took years to evolve this program and we're at a point now where Don Hancock has actually come in to fully support this program.

Over a number of years, we've created a full-time position, one of our former food rescue coordinators who's been for a number of years, Kathy, is now the coordinator for Plenty as our education coordinator.

It's such a fantastic piece of our organization and I'm so proud of where it's gone and what it's been able to do because Kathy will go-- and I think this year she's on track for 52 different workshops, that are free of charge to our beneficiaries to say, "When we deliver food charge, you can cook it like collard greens and here are three or four different recipes that will work for this one product", any kind of root vegetable, which would be synonymous with the preparation of potatoes or whatever it is.

It's really meant to get folks to their own first reductions, even in these larger kitchens that are serving, two and three thousand meals on a soup line every day. Beyond that, we've taken these techniques and these ideas, and turn them into recipes and information cards, which we then had translated into six or seven languages of the populations that we serve.

Because what we're realizing about food is that it can be so transformative, it really is a language that's understood by everybody and its own right. But what we really want to do is make sure that it's reaching folks in a way that means something, and if you can't read the instructions, if you don't understand the language, if it's not food that's culturally appropriate for you, we're not really helping anyone. We try to do our best to meet the need in every possible way, and Plenty is one of the ways that we do that.

[00:26:22] Liz: What a great program. People will figure out how to do this for themselves, and that you can't put a price on that, that's beautiful.

Then, Ashely, as you do know, many of our listeners, our haulers, recyclers, landfill owners and composters, they handle the tail end of this issue, the food waste issue. How do you think they can help?

[00:26:48] Ashley: It's funny, we're all working within a system that has set parameters and guardrails work as waste haulers, as recyclers, as suppliers of food, as ancillary services like us, one of the ways that we've found to be helpful beyond our day-to-day hauling, is really understanding our partner's needs.

This shifts back to the vendor side, which is where I think, your haulers are focused with these big brands, understanding more of their own internal guardrails and their own internal criteria, keeping the most value in the food as early as possible.

Now, we read so many stories about folks and companies who are coming out with large digesters, it's an admirable effort, without a doubt. The amount of food that's required to power these digesters through anaerobic digestion it's so massive, that a lot of these companies are often taking food that could otherwise be set, hold raw beautiful products that hasn't lost any nutritional value, but they're taking that to feed the digester to meet the minimum requirements to get it to work.

Where there are conversations to be had about that, I think, it's incumbent upon us in the space to be able to at least start those conversations or get the folks that we all work with to think about that, because without a doubt, somebody who is likely working for that brand, in that store or living down the street, it's likely utilizing the services of a local food pantry.

Once we start making this personal, we start understanding just how far this food can go and just how widespread the need really is, I think it might shape the way that we think about what we can do with excess products.

[00:29:13] Liz: Absolutely. More on the individual side of things, there are a ton of people who want to help and you, your story is great because you started as an individual who saw a solution and just went for it. How can others do the same without necessarily feeling overwhelmed, or that their contribution might not matter?

[00:29:32] Ashley: I think the first place to start for anybody, myself included, is right at home. The individual household is one of the largest contributors to food in the waste stream out of any sector, that's really just a product of folks not being aware of what we can do and what we're probably subconsciously already doing. Sometimes as a matter of convenience, sometimes we're working multiple jobs, we have to feed two kids, take public transportation, all really real and valid factors that go into the choices that we make.

One thing that I am always trying to improve and do better is meal plan and write out a list when I go to the grocery store. Because you can go on a Sunday or early in the week and feel good about buying what you think you need for the entire week.

Then by Wednesday or Thursday, after maybe one round of leftovers or unexpectedly going out for the office of serving extra food, if somebody brings over some food, whatever the case may be, we wind up with excess food that we end up throwing away because we think it's bad, maybe it is bad, maybe it hasn't lasted, maybe it was on its last legs when we bought it, so really being a little bit more intentional about how we approach food at home and planning for that is really important. That's probably the biggest, most significant change that we as individuals can make at home.

The other pieces is then really getting creative with what we're buying. Most often, an ingredient whether it's a whole chicken, a bag of potatoes or a loaf of bread, whatever it might be, you can get a number of different meals out of that. Sometimes it does require a little bit more time, a little bit more preparation, a little bit more creativity but the average savings that we get as households and individuals is significant. I think it's something that improves how we feel about how we are treating food, and what we're doing to put some good back in the world.

Beyond that, we have a ton of resources listed on our website, if anyone wants to check those out and understand a little bit more about what we do, and how folks can either support us or implement some of this at home or in their business, we are at LovinSpoonfulsInc.org

[00:32:18] Liz: That's great, thank you, I bet a lot of people will check this out. Startups are tough as whether it's a profit or not-for-profit, is there anything, now that you've been in this 10 years, anything you wish you had done differently?

[00:32:32] Ashley: In some ways, sure. I don't think I'm unique as a founder in terms of folks who get some hindsight and say, "Oh, would have been so much better if I had had a business plan when I started doing this", or if I had raised around before I had begun. At the same time, I think because I didn't have a background in nonprofit or a background in food for hospitality. I think I had just the right amount of naivete and rampant optimism to try a number of different things and fail at most of them but the things that step are still in practice at Lovin' Spoonfuls today.

In some ways, absolutely, I wish that I had taken some time to come up with a strategic plan to build a more powerful board right at the beginning, to understand some of my own deficits in terms of my technology prowess, if you will, the lack thereof.

All of those things, I think once you start becoming aware of where your strengths lie and then what your weaknesses are, you can continue to build and plan around that. One of the things that has been so important for me as a founder, as a CEO, as a woman in business, as a member of this team and a member of the community, it's to hire really well. You want to hire folks who are awesome at the things that you're not, that really moves the ball up the field in a pretty parallel line, that becomes pretty bulletproof. For that, I feel incredibly lucky.

[00:34:33] Liz: That's great. It seems like you treat them well, and that's the nature of building and keeping a great team, congrats on that.

[00:34:42] Ashley: Thanks. It's funny, I feel so incredibly confident in my team, in our operations team, in my development team, in our support staff and, of course, in our food rescue coordinators on the road every day, that my focus has really now become fortifying Lovin' Spoonfuls to become the sustainable organization that I think we all want it to be.

We are now moving, 10 years later, I think it differs from company to company, organization to organization but for me now, I get to put my focus back on making the shift from startup to a midsize organizations, and what that means for my staff, for my team, of being a good employer and a decent employer, a decent community partner, and ways to not just incentivize our team, but to take care of them.

The things that are becoming important to me now -always important but where I get to focus now- is making sure that Lovin' Spoonfuls is a job creator, we should be innovating in our field and creating best practice but really be a place where people feel proud and safe to come to work.

[00:36:09] Liz: That's great. What's next for Lovin' Spoonfuls? You answered a little bit in terms of your team, and now that you're approaching that next level organization but, in general, do you have any more growth plan?

[00:36:20] Ashley: We always are thinking about growth because the need is there. I think one of the things that are reflective of some of the shifts and strategy, and the shifts from startup to midsize, we have a waiting list that is always about to burst at the seam, just by nature of what we do, the impulse is just always to say, "Let's put another truck on the road and we'll figure out how to pay for it later". 

I don't know if that feeling will ever go away, but in terms of strategic decision making better forecasting and understanding how to grow the business, we are putting in those safeguards to make sure that we can meet the needs. We can meet the needs sustainably with some strengths as we move forward, we're trying to identify the next area to go.

For us certainly, we want to be serving all of Massachusetts, we want to be serving regionally, there's certainly potential for national replication. I think one of the things about our model -I think I said this at the beginning of our conversation- was that however, we continue to evolve, grow and remain consistent, we never do it with a ceiling that doesn't allow us to bend and that doesn't allow us to adapt.

Because we will find new populations, new geography, new areas, and we're going to have to be flexible and adaptable. I think in some ways, the next 10 years operations wise, I want to continue what we're doing but I want to stay at the front of new and better ways to become aware of food supply, food production to continue to educate.

[00:38:20] Liz: That's fantastic and you're doing such a great job of that, thank you for really humanizing the food rescue work that you're doing, because I think that inspires a lot of people and it certainly, will inspire our listeners. This has been a wonderful conversation, again, thank you for all that you're doing to rescue food.

[00:38:40] Ashley: Thank you for the platform and thanks for giving us a chance to talk about it. I'm excited to know more about [unintelligible 00:38:46] contribution to the conference coming up.

[00:38:49] Liz: We can't wait to see her at the conference, talking in the Food Recovery Forum, I know it's going to be great and folks really walk away from that, especially, probably what she's going to share, ready to make some changes and do good. Thank you, we will keep you posted on that.

[00:39:13] Ashley: Awesome. Thank you so much for having me and I really enjoy talking to you.

[00:39:17] Liz: Me too. Thank you so much and good luck with everything.


Need to Know

Dover Completes Acquisition of Soft-Pak Software Solutions

Dover Completes Acquisition of Soft-Pak Software Solutions

Environmental Solutions Group (ESG) announced that Dover Corporation, ESG's ultimate parent entity, has completed the previously announced acquisition of So. Cal. Soft-Pak, Inc., a leading independent provider of integrated back office, route management and customer relationship management software solutions to the waste and recycling fleet industry. Soft-Pak will now become part of Dover's ESG business unit.

The acquisition of San Diego-based Soft-Pak expands ESG's existing digital solutions with innovative in-cab route management and strong back office solutions that help fleet owners better manage their business.

"With the addition of Soft-Pak, ESG now offers a robust and comprehensive digital solution for any fleet owner looking to make better, smarter operational decisions," said Pat Carroll, president of ESG, in a statement. "Our suite of productivity-oriented offerings is wide-ranging and includes Heil and Curotto-Can equipment, 3rd Eye's vehicle safety and analytics offerings like powertrain and refuse body performance data and now also Soft-Pak's tablet-based route management software and industry-leading back office solutions. We are very excited about what the two teams can deliver to our waste and recycling fleet customers in the near future."

Soft-Pak has a 30-year track record of serving hundreds of waste and recycling fleets nationwide with innovative software solutions tailored to a customer's unique needs. In 2014, Soft-Pak launched the highly innovative and successful Mobile-Pak in-cab cloud-based tablet solution that includes real-time GPS tracking and route management, along with other customer service and billing functions that make digital integration of a hauler's fleet easier.

"We are very pleased to be welcomed into the ESG family and see this development as a win-win for Soft-Pak employees and customers of both Soft-Pak and ESG, many of whom we share," said Brian Porter, president of Soft-Pak, in a statement. "We will deliver superior productivity and value to our customers by combining Soft-Pak's solutions and the breadth of ESG offerings, such as 3rd Eye analytics and Heil refuse bodies."

"When you look at the power of Soft-Pak's Mobile-Pak route management tablet offering, and its customer service and billing software, combined with 3rd Eye's gateway and rich stream of body and chassis data, you have a digital powerhouse of both asset and end customer data," added Carroll. "When these offerings are combined with a Heil Half/Pack Front Loader, you have a system that sends relevant data from the time a hauler leaves its yard until it has finished with its route. This helps fleet owners run more efficient and reliable operations and deliver superior service to their customers. Soft-Pak is an integral part of the overall customer experience, and one that helps differentiate ESG from other offerings."

"Fleet mobile assets are now able to produce rich operational insights and integrated solutions that allow owners to smartly apply those insights to drive down the total cost of collections for the refuse and recycling industry by reducing driver turnover, missed stops, overloaded containers, unnecessary fuel-related cost, repairs and, most importantly, safety incidents on our roads," he added. "Digital technologies are transforming the industry for our drivers, the mechanics, customers and communities, and we are excited to lead the way into the future for our industry."

Soft-Pak will be a part of all ESG tradeshows and will be featured at this year's WasteExpo. In addition, Soft-Pak products and services will be represented at regional ESG Roadshows, starting with the Heil of Texas Roadshow held on March 16 in Austin, Texas.